Monday, September 26, 2011

Time goes sailing on, like a skipping rock...

Caged Animals - Teenagers in Heat

“I want to believe that you and me will always be teenagers in heat...”

I don’t think I have been so affected by a song for a long time. Teenagers in Heat fills me with a deep yearning and sadness for an unreachable past. First time I heard it I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. Last FM stats reveal that I’ve listened to it 38 times in the past week, but that has a lot to do with its brevity - clocking in at just shy of two minutes it always leaves me wanting more. “Yearning” is a word that regularly crops up in descriptions of a lot of the music coming out of the US underground at the moment (Summer Camp, Washed Out, Teen Daze, etc), and there is more desire and longing on display in this one song than in an entire John Hughes movie. It borrows a little bit from Dion and the Belmonts A Teenager in Love (which I’m guessing is its inspiration), but the synthetic beats, chiming melody and Caged Animals’ mainman Vincent Cacchione’s emotive falsetto make it an altogether more modern interpretation of aching teenage lust. Paul Lester of the Guardian called it “doo-wop dubstep” and, as terrible as that union might sound, it’s a neat analogy.

But why am I so obsessed? I guess there is a part of me that can't quite believe that I'm not still 15-years-old, daydreaming about marrying Molly Ringwald while doing my paper round. But it’s not like I even want to be a teenager again, and certainly not one “in heat”. That gets seriously complicated. Nope, this is just another example of how music can reach deep into our unconscious with its slender fingers, teasing out feelings that we assume we’ve long since buried. The devious bastard...

I have no idea what the rest of the album sounds like as I haven’t got past this one song yet, and The New Yorker's proclamation of Caged Animals as “a hip-hop-influenced Velvet Underground” hasn’t encouraged me to investigate further, but I’m sure I will. But whatever, I know that it can never live up to the flawlessness of this nugget of heart-tugging pop gold.

Joe White Noise

CAGED ANIMALS - Teenagers In Heat from Caged Animals on Vimeo.

Eat Their Own by Caged Animals is out now on Lucky Numbers

Buy Eat Their Own by Caged Animals from Norman Records
Caged Animals Bandcamp
Caged Animals website

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fast Forward to the Past

Puro Instinct - Vapor Girls

I am sitting on a coach. I am 14-years-old and have never lived anywhere except a small market town. There are three cassettes on my lap. They are: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles, Countdown to Extinction by Megadeth and Precious, a 20-track compilation of popular indie disco songs. The cassettes, satisfying their geometrically determined potential for metaphor, each represent a door.

Sgt Peppers is a portal to a permanently sun-drenched solarium. Growing up in a non-Beatles playing household, I have just acquired the keys to the door through a sheer act of will, a downhill physical effort that somehow initiates a transformation of everyday life. In a week’s time, I will be threatened with a knife at a disco and later dance with a girl, sporting underwear outside of jeans, to Wet Wet Wet. It will be amazing, as though simply owning the tape is a passport into new realms of giddy experience. It will soundtrack its own luminous existence like a perfect, wheezing Dansette, on a Muppet bedspread, on a boat, on a river. But that’s another story for another time. Fast-forward.

Countdown to Extinction is a grubby door, slavered with many layers of paint. It opens onto the north-facing, six by ten box room, rarely aired and with a smell somewhere between burnt matches and old pornography. It gets a couple of plays. It will be the last heavy metal album I ever buy. But that’s another story for another time. Fast-forward.

Precious is a more complicated door. Made from good wood, parts of it are in decent shape, whereas elsewhere it looks like it’s been forced a few times, and split from the effort. There are a couple of boltless locks still attached. It opens with difficulty onto a garden filled with many plants and flowers, but also red ants and some partially concealed cat faeces. Play.

Anyone who grew up on Now! albums knows that all music, as long as it is popular, is equally valid, so owning these three tapes at once is perfectly acceptable, as if it needs verifying. But, equally, anyone who grew up watching The Chart Show knows that some territorial demarcation is required, at least once every three weeks. I had always felt at home watching the rock chart — the videos were expensive and inappropriately fogged in dry ice. Men with beautiful hair took an infantile delight in pyrotechnics and arm waving. The songs were simple and memorable, and women appeared, mostly as a kind of decoration, wearing different types of highly ornate bras. Built on fantasy and bluster, it spoke to my limited experience of the world.

The indie chart by comparison was unfathomable. Half the groups didn’t seem to make videos, their blunt grayscale photos at odds with the on-screen graphics. Most of the songs were muffled and fuzzy and played at clattering pace. Women were not only in the groups with bedraggled men, playing instruments, but wearing t-shirts over their bras. It was confusing and weird. These people didn’t look like they cared about being popular at all. But the obscurity proved to be compelling—homing beacons from an adult world far more oblique and interesting than the comical posturing of the rock chart. (As an aside, I’ve checked various clips on Youtube, and Michael Bolton is apparently always in the rock top ten, regardless of the year—a synth-toting spectre in blue tinted warehouses like Banquo’s strange uncle. Fast-forward.)

Evidently, it was time to go shopping, but I needed a shop window. So I bought Precious, and it dominated a summer. The anthems were an easy sell, as expansive as anything Iron Maiden could think up; it just took a while to refocus to a lyrical content of “feelings” instead of “murder”. And if at first Planet of Sound and The Drowners didn’t make sense, didn’t sound as universal and urgent as Sit Down and There’s No Over Way, then after a few plays it fell together. They weren’t a huge stretch from metal anyway: Pixies seemed like a surreal take on its dynamics, and Suede were a bit like the Quireboys.

A few tracks wouldn’t stick, though, those by Lush, the Pale Saints, My Bloody Valentine, the Sugarcubes. These weren’t noisy or anthemic — they were strange and light, distant, inscrutable. Nothing like chart pop music, and nothing like my basic conception of “indie”, they hung around in a breathy trance for a few minutes before fading away. No amount of close attention could break through that watery, reflective surface. I chased them around a bit, like trying to grab hold of one of those dandelion clocks that somehow drift into the room, then gave up.

Which is a long way of saying that I’m back at the door again, staring at Puro Instinct, and trying to shift the tangible sensations of an unseasoned, uncomprehending youth getting in the way. This isn’t to say that Puro Instinct directly replicate an early-1990s, lysergic indie pop sound — their press release for this album points in the direction of 1980s Fleetwood Mac and Sade, and makes much of their connection to Ariel Pink, who guests on Headbangers in Ecstacy. I don’t want to be dismissive of this, or of the quality on offer here. But it’s not what I hear — I hear the same dreamy aesthetic as those songs from Precious as I heard them 20 years ago, perched between pop songs and subconscious slithers. The result is that I can’t stay focused on the present when my mind goes dancing through the past. It’s even harder when the chorus of No Mames apparently has the phrase “kinky love”, which is the actual name of the Pale Saints track on Precious. I’m not sure it definitely does, but it’s what I hear, as though they’re mocking me across a chasm of time.

Because, just for the record, I like the past to stay in the past, so on the brief occasions that I can get a clear listen, there are some gems on this record. Somewhere between soothing and disquieting, Everybody’s Sick is a Lynchian earworm, while the perfectly titled Vapor Girls breaks the flashback spell, for a moment, with uncertain harmonies, and through the cracks I hear a woozily funky and afternoon wine-drunk California that I imagine exists. But it can’t sustain itself, and the past comes lumbering back in with its heavy burden and my younger sniggering self for unwanted company.

Sea Pinks - Oh London

It’s fitting, then, while I’m trying to dig the grit of the past out of my ears that Belfast’s Sea Pinks emerge from their garage, and make noise at me like one of those other non-video sporting bands on the indie chart. The odd ones, the ones that sounded like they hadn’t thought their songs through at all, like they just wrote them and put them onto a cassette the same day. Their sound is, on last year’s Youth is Wasted, rushing and blurred, not angry but urgent, with no notes in their guitars, and the words dispersing into the tin-pot din. Evidently, they’ve forgotten to move the microphone into the room they’re playing in. The songs flash by, caught up in their own momentum, all in the mid-range, reveling in their lack of relevance. No video.

The only change the new album Dead Seas seems to make is to move the mic a few feet closer, so that words are occasionally discernable. On that note, please enjoy Oh London, where the lyrical content is as amusingly bitter as you would have hoped for.

So what can we learn from this? That the past, like a leaky pipe, is always dripping in the kitchen? Yeah, alright. Rewind.

Graham White Noise

Headbangers in Ecstasy by Puro Instinct is out now on Mexican Summer
Dead Seas by Sea Pinks is out now on CF/Recs

Buy Headbangers in Ecstasy by Puro Instinct from Norman Records
Buy Dead Seas by Sea Pinks from CF/Recs
Puro Instinct blog
Sea Pinks at Bandcamp where debut album Youth is Wasted is available as a free download

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Imperfect Space of the Waking Dream

Barn Owl - Devotion II

Some days I don’t really wake up at all. Not completely. Basic motor functions are intact, but in general it’s a fudge. Reality refuses to manifest completely – a confusion of barely understood stimuli with the singular intent of distracting and bewildering me. Inanimate objects are weirdly mobile, scuttling in and out of my path, and light itself is a vast, monochrome edifice, creating terrible waves at the corners of vision.

You’re the same as me, so you know what I’m talking about. You’re probably having a day like that today, stabbing dumbly at technology and failing to spell primary school-level words. Your shoes are in the fridge, and you’ve no recollection of placing them there. You’re an idiot in need of rest, but there’s a whole day to battle through.

It’s the ambivalence that’s the worst thing – the will to operate without the means to achieve. Somewhere, though, in that struggle, great things can happen. Ideas fuse with disparate thoughts in a way you otherwise can’t encourage, and the dimness of perception can create momentary, terrifying fantasy out of everyday objects. The befuddled trudge can, for short periods, coalesce into something interesting, even useful, if you enjoy being trapped in a netherworld between the real and imagined.

Lost In The Glare testifies that Barn Owl know this, and suggests they are perpetually trapped in that netherworld, probably by choice, working on their sound unnoticed in some low-watt cellar. Spacious and graceful, you might file this under ambient drone, but I think that does a disservice to the slow-burning intensity of this record, and the range of influences absorbed into the whole. There’s no infinite drifting here, always a build to something fierce yet indistinct. Something is always about to happen, often a plaintive picking of an old-English folk melody merges, incongruous against the dust-blown Eastern backdrops dragged from indistinguishable instruments. Even as they emerge and build, the hooks recede again, a shifting mirage in twilight. In and out weave the thumbprints of early Velvet Underground, the stripped-down Mogwai of Come On Die Young, the rain wet moors of Further-era Flying Saucer Attack and the slo-mo fuzz of latter-day drone metal.

The tension and release is best experienced by taking the album as whole. Devotion I and The Darkest Night Since 1683 combine to create a space as cavernous and forbidding as Light Echoes and Devotion II are searing and direct. It comes together in the imperfect space of the waking dream. Slow dancing tunes come on like ghosts, disperse and drift in the campfire space.

Barn Owl create dialogue between imagination and reality, making taut forest pathways from vapour trails in the eye of your mangled, sleep-deprived mind. Dislocated and engrossing, Lost In The Glare is a rich tale about nothing in particular – a train moving slowly through the desert night, getting nowhere slowly, shining hot white light and making malevolent fun with the shadows. It’s the ideal soundtrack for a journey around your somnambulant world.

Graham White Noise

Lost in the Glare is out now on Thrill Jockey

Buy Lost in the Glare by Barn Owl from Norman Records
Barn Owl discography
Barn Owl MySpace

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Steve’s Opening Gambit

The Beta Band - Happiness and Colour

The Beta Band - The Hut

I’ve always been a big fan of wilfully creative buggers who don’t bother to play the game, and they don’t come more bloody-minded than the Beta Band, who tried (eventually succeeding) to sabotage their career from the outset. Of course, it has since come to light that a large part of this self-destructive behaviour was down to the Beta Band linchpin Steve Mason’s on-going struggles with mental illness, which at one point became so severe that he was on the brink of suicide. But at the time, to anyone outside looking in, what you could see was a supremely talented collective, riding on the crest of a giant wave of adulation from the press and public, doing their level best to fuck everything up.

Their self-titled debut album is a much talked about case in point. Mason was slagging it off before anyone had even heard it, declaring it to be a “crock of shit” in a 1999 interview with the NME. They also said it was “fucking awful” and the worst album of the year. It wasn’t – in fact, I’d argue the case that it is the best album they ever made*. But can you imagine any other lauded band on the planet opening their debut album with a track like The Beta Band Rap, a bizarre collage of Fifties doo-wop, low-slung countrified hip-hop and karaoke Elvis? It’s a manic statement of intent that borders on genius if you take the time to listen to the lyrics describing the band’s genesis and comedy meetings with record company execs. Admittedly Mason’s no Chuck D, but it’s funny, inventive and right out there – everything that the music press was praising the band to the high heavens for, while in reality wanting them to deliver another ten versions of Dry the Rain. Nobody was prepared for the sprawling, unwieldy genre-mash record that emerged, leading the enraged EMI chairman to splutter: “What the fuck is going on with the Beta Band?”

What indeed? But things could have been even worse had the band got their way. The initial intention was for their debut to be a double album, with a second disc consisting of two pieces of music, Happiness and Colour and The Hut; epic slabs of indulgent ambient noodling and field recordings (ie somebody left a tape recorder running while the band were sitting in a field smoking copious amounts of dope) that made the 15-minute Monolith from The Three EPs (featuring samples of a washing machine being destroyed) seem accessible. At one stage the band wanted the album to be promoted by sending out these two tracks to journalists. In the end, sane(r) heads ruled and the second disc never saw the light of day, until it was leaked onto the internet a few years ago.

So let’s consider the evidence shall we? Of the two, Happiness and Colour has the most merit, consisting of, in patches, something approaching conventional “music” – loose campfire jams, punctuated by wayward melodica and harmonica solos; bits of wood being banged together; snatches of garbled conversation; and samples of bubbling water and sounds of the sea. There’s almost a proper song at the 20-minute mark, albeit with speeded-up chipmunk voices à la King Biscuit Time’s magnificent Eye o’ the Dug. My favourite moment happens around 13m 30s when a distorted guitar coda rings out. Close in spirit to the KLF’s Chill Out, if you stuck it on a bit of coloured vinyl in a screen-printed sleeve it would probably get snapped up by collectors in an instant. But The Hut is a step too far. It sounds like those messages you get left on your mobile when somebody accidentally calls you when they’re out and about – in this case, I imagine Steve Mason’s phone swishing around in his rucksack while he and the rest of the Betas are out rambling by a Scottish loch on a windy day. Getting through the full 20 minutes is a struggle even for me, and I’m a diehard.

However epic the folly, I completely admire the band for wanting to do things differently, even if it was eventually to the detriment of their career. Can you imagine the Vaccines doing the same? And of course it is much easier to laugh at all of this now that Mason is back on track, making some of the finest music of his career. We will probably never see the like again, and while the former EMI chairman breathes a big sigh of relief in his very big house in the country, I still cry myself to sleep over the demise of the gloriously obstinate bastards.

*Yes, NME scribe of the time (your name has not survived for posterity on the archived web link of your review), I am the "miracle" that "genuinely loves every last second of it.”

Joe White Noise

For old times’ sake – Hobbsy's Beta Band website
Purchase the magic from Amazon
Somebody still updates this fansite
Steve Mason website

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A basic, post-industrial witchcraft aimed at social control...

The Chasms - The Occult Soul Review

Meanwhile on the Isle of Man the situation has worsened. The extent to which society there has collapsed is still a matter of speculation. Mainland communications ceased several weeks ago, and we have neither heard nor seen anything from its inhabitants since. What we do know is that before communication was lost, widespread and sustained public disorder meant that infrastructure and industry had largely collapsed, and the struggle to regain order was ongoing.

The following communication, if we can call it that, we received quite by accident. A metal box, stamped in black ink as the product of the island, and smelling of foul engine oil, washed up on a quiet stretch on Lancashire beach and was discovered on the shore by a dog walker. Inside were several spools of audio tape, dry and undamaged by their journey. If the box was sent into the sea by accident or on purpose we cannot yet be sure, but what we do know is that it represents what is so far the only communication from an island which we can neither reach nor contact. What really went on there, we only have this excerpt.

The six tapes are accompanied by some damaged and oblique literature which appears to identify them by different, though obscure names. The sonic contents present a frankly unfathomable amalgamation of industrial noise and rhythms accompanied by a single human male voice. The nature of the tapes has required the expertise of several analysts from a range of disciplines, the better we might understand what we can learn from them.

Throughout the six segments is a consistent and remarkably ferocious drone of such amplitude that it dominates the entire document, suggesting the spontaneous nature of what is captured. There is some agreement on the origin of the noises: malfunctioning electrical grids, circuitry roughly dismantled, large overwrought engines and the recalcitrant shriek of metal on metal. Added to this is the single, sinister voice present throughout though often obscured by the noise, requiring a careful and dedicated ear. A leading acoustic engineer, Mr Gedge, has reported as recognizing the voice, but is yet unable to positively identify it, and close analysis continues. Speech content is a combination of exhortations, whispers, incantations and something approaching singing. Content addresses a range of concerns in a type of storytelling utilizing a dialectic form of English, a somewhat old-fashioned idea of “oral culture” and which may shed light on the ongoing situation on the island.

Of the tapes themselves, No. 5 (A Copse of Trees) seems to be a recital of an unknown screenplay, suggesting the islanders still have access to cultural documents and some understanding of their uses. No. 4 (Ghosts to Starboard) perhaps uses notions of the paranormal to meter out punitive judgment on the vain and greedy. Most disconcertingly, No. 1 (The Occult Soul Review) details an encounter with the devil.

Analysts have so far brought forward a number of intriguing theories on the nature and delivery of this material, and what it tells us about life on the island. One is that they are some form of reportage, though we can confidently dismiss this — despite the tangible reality of the scenarios detailed, the fantastical elements stretch credulity. It seems more likely they reflect either one, or a combination of, the following: the deranged response of the individual, weakened by physical and psychic peril, struggling to come to terms with a transformed landscape; or, an attempt to understand and control a disunited mass of people, in the absence of the state, through a conjuring trick of malevolent supernatural forces and the reintroduction of folk devils. A basic, post-industrial witchcraft aimed at social control.

Lending coherence to this idea is the way the noise, though initially forbidding, over sustained exposure seems to coalesce into a primitive form of music, perhaps with the aim of inducing a trance-like state. No. 2 (Thomas Merton 240 Volts) for example creates a meditative space from a discordant drone and pivots on the repetition of the phrase: “Inflame thyself with prayer — invoke, often.” Analysts have, following lengthy exposure, reported to such contrasting emotional states as terror, excitation and great joy. No. 3 (The Midnight Boat), meanwhile, appears to fashion a simple popular music structure from its internal disquiet, as though the shared cultural memory of mass entertainment were being recreated from second-hand accounts and its black charred remains.

Clearly, more time and research is required before the exact nature of this evidence comes to light. It may require some leaps of faith and imagination to understand this document as a form of social control or the details of insanity lashed together from the literal wreckage of a formerly peaceful, if rather obscure community, rather than some form of elaborate practical joke, a theory also put forward. If, as we suspect, the former is true, then it may be necessary for the United Kingdom to intervene as soon as possible. It is my personal view, however, drawn from the overbearing sense of dread which fogs these recordings, that it may very well already be too late for the Isle of Man.

Graham White Noise

The Chasms Bandcamp

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

No Place Like Plone

There can be no worse fear for the music obsessive than knowing that somewhere out there is an amazing, life-changing album that you’ll never get to hear because fate never sends it in your direction. I’m pretty sure that lurking in the ever-growing pile of CDs on my desk is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, but unless somebody can add an extra day to the week that I can devote solely to listening to music, the majority of it will remain unheard by my ears. Running that a close second is the album that you know exists, but you won’t get to hear it because it never gets released. I don’t mean album sessions that get canned or albums that are rejected by labels for being rubbish and then end up appearing later in a slightly different form. I’m talking about entire albums that are recorded, submitted, accepted, but never see the light of day.

One such album is the untitled second album by the Brummie analogue synth wizards Plone. The trio of Mike “Billy” Bainbridge, Mark Cancellara & Michael Johnston made some devastatingly beautiful music during their short but ever so sweet career, represented by a painfully thin catalogue of two singles and one album, released between 1997 and 1999. An obsession with analogue equipment coupled with a naive charm and a playful approach to melodies made them loved by anyone who followed electronic music. Plus they looked like a trio of physics students, especially live, where they gathered earnestly behind banks of old-school synths (above).

My first contact with Plone was via the marvellous Plaything, their contribution to the 100th Warp release (WAP100), with its farty synth squelches that could put an idiot grin on the sourest of faces. Prior to that there had been a single, Press a Key, on Wurlitzer Jukebox - the original home of fellow Brummie sonic pioneers Broadcast and Pram. Plone, like Broadcast, then signed to Warp. On their first single release for Warp Records, Plock (much-loved, and played at my wedding), they married the sweetest Moogy melodies to a soothing, vocodered vocal inviting you to “Come out to play”, perfectly evoking the mood of an innocent, carefree childhood.

Their debut album For Beginner Piano expanded on this theme - whimsical, retro-futurist electronic synth music, with a nod towards soundtracks and imaginary themes to children's TV or the incidental music for amusingly dubbed 1980s Euro dramas. The melodies were occasionally cloying, but it definitely was not "the new elevator music", as Pitchfork stated in its less than glowing 1999 review.

They recorded a second album - not just demos; a proper, finished, mastered and ready to go album – but the death of Warp’s co-founder Rob Mitchell in 2001 led to the album release being postponed. Plone were one of Rob’s signings, and while that didn’t preclude other people at the label from liking the band and being behind their music, in the aftermath of his death, the appetite from both label and band to work on and promote the album was diminished. Time passed and so did the moment. Plone split and the album remained unreleased. Everybody moved on to new things…

Plone - 140
Plone - Arpeggios

After a time, torrents and download links started appearing on the internet (it’s not clear who initially leaked the album – band, friend or former label employee), but they disappeared as quickly as they were uploaded, and I seemed to always be one step behind. Then I finally stumbled upon a live link and was able to download the album in its entirety. Wow. Bigger, bolder and better than their 1999 debut, the 17 songs represented a great leap forward. They retained everything that made them brilliant, but the addition of live drums on tracks like 140 gave the Plone sound a welcome extra dimension. A driving rhythm is bashed out and the track culminates in a swirling, psychedelic wig-out. Plone never rocked before – it’s the sound of the band letting their hair down. Arpeggios also has live drums but is a more laidback affair, with twinkling pianos, spangly space-age effects and a gorgeous, hummable melody. I've popped those two tracks up above for download - if you're lucky you may still find a active link of the album in its entirety somewhere on the internets, but what it really needs (deserves) is for the somebody like Ghost Box, or even Warp, to dig out the masters and give the album the proper release it deserves. It really is a cracker.

Search eBay for Plone
Plone discography
Plone at Warp Records
1997 interview with Plone here

Friday, February 18, 2011

Phasers on Stunned

Tangerine Dream vs Star Trek - I Dream of Star Trek

It was always going to take something special for me to bring this blog back from the dead. Maybe not special for you, but special for me. Sure, I've missed this place - the limited scribbling that I did over on Ecstasy in Slow Motion felt a bit half arsed, because it was - I was just going through the motions. But I've been feeling a real desire to start blogging again - all the stuff that I write for The Times is stuck behind the paywall and, try as I might, I just can't express myself in 140 characters. I'm a waffler. Plus, the story behind this first post is intrinsically linked to this blog. It would be weird to write it anywhere else.

So - why is dialogue from Star Trek spliced with music by Tangerine Dream special? I suppose the main reason is that I never thought I’d hear it again...

I wrote a post on here back in March 2007, an ill-conceived look back at the history of ambient and chill-out music from my very limited perspective. In that post I wittered, “I long to get my hands on a cassette a friend of my brother made, which spliced a Tangerine Dream album with dialogue from episodes of Star Trek. It was a bizarre union but it worked perfectly as music to lose yourself in, the dreamy soundscapes of Tangerine Dream combining with Kirk and Spock’s out-there and often hilarious observations on beaming down to yet another strange planet.”

That tape brings back some seriously intense memories. Predominantly of being in Oxford in the early-90s where my brother was at college and taking homemade blotter acid so strong that a guy I'd spent the entire day with emerged from the cupboard under the stairs ten minutes after we'd dropped and said to me, "Who the FUCK are you?" The night involved a crate of vintage champagne, trying to stop my friend jumping off the roof and much more barking-mad lunacy. I don't think I've ever properly recovered from it. But that night, as the effects were finally wearing off and we were coming down, drinking £80 bottles of champagne and smoking arm-sized joints, my brother's friend put on the tape that you can now download above in all its glory, all 102MB of it. It became THE comedown tape, the one we'd always lob on the stereo when frazzled. I never got past the first 15 or so minutes before slipping under, but would always wake up for the last few moments.

But for some inexplicable reason, every copy of the tape disappeared. My brother lost touch with the friend who originally had the tape and any copies in circulation with my circle of mates was wiped (replaced with a Spiral Tribe DJ-mix, no doubt) or lost. I had long since given up on ever hearing again. And then, completely out of the blue, in September last year I got an email from a guy called Chris –

I came across your White Noise website as for ages I have been trying to find the recording of Tangerine Dream with Star Trek dialogue and wondered if you had found it anywhere? I have asked everyone I gave it to but no luck. I got it from someone I worked with and he has no idea where his copy went either so if poss let me know. I cannot listen to Tangerine Dream without Kirk or Spock’s voice popping into my head! Chris

I’ve done many a Google search for Star Trek/Tangerine Dream (and combinations thereof) but nothing of use ever came up, so kudos to Chris for actually finding my post in the first place. But we were still no closer. He, like me, was looking for it, not in possession of it. But then, just before Christmas, Chris e-mailed me again with better news –

It would appear that my brother has found the Star Trek/Tangerine Dream tape amongst some of his old cassettes. He is trying to have it put on CD as we speak.

In the end it was Chris who took charge of the transfer, seamlessly linking the two sides of the C90 together by adding some of the original vinyl music (you really can’t hear the join) and making a glorious 90-minute version of the Star Trek/Tangerine Dream bootleg. And with the submission of the final mp3 came some interesting background to the mix from Chris -

If I’m not mistaken there are twenty episodes of Star Trek that the dialogue was taken from, including (in no particular order) -

What Are Little Girls Made Of/ Miri/Balance of Terror/Shore Leave/The Galileo Seven/The Squire of Gothos/Arena/Tomorrow is Yesterday/Court Martial/The Return of the Archons/This Side of Paradise/Errand of Mercy/The Alternative Factor/The City on the Edge of Forever/The Changeling/Mirror Mirror/The Trouble with Tribbles/The Ultimate Computer/Bread and Circuses/And the Children Shall Lead

As for the Tangerine Dream albums involved, there are four that I know of Phaedra, Force Majeure, Rubycon and, towards the end, Richochet for just a few minutes. The albums aren’t complete run-throughs, just sections of groovy music, so whoever originally mixed it did some selective editing.

So who did mix it?

I was told by the friend who gave me the original tape that the guy who mixed this tape was one of the many members of Saxon. He (my friend) used to work in the evenings for Saxon doing the light rig for their stage show, I spoke to him yesterday and he still reckons that to be true!!!

But of course - one of the members of Barnsley heavy metallers Saxon. Who else?

So there you go - a heartwarming tale of how the internet works for the good, connecting people and unearthing lost treasures. I really have no idea how the TD/ST combo works for anyone who doesn't recall it from back in the day, but to me it still sounds magical. It's good to be back.

Buy Tangerine Dream from Amazon
Full list of Star Trek episodes (1966-1969) Wikipedia
Official Star Trek website

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Just Dropping It Onto My Tongue

William Orbit - Water From a Vine Leaf (Spooky's Xylem Flow Mix)

When the Balearic Classics Panel* meet later on this month to decide the next batch of records to be inducted into its hall of fame, I have a suggestion for them. The Xylem Flow Mix of the Madonna and Blur producer William Orbit's Water from a Vine Leaf by progressive house legends Spooky. I'm not sure what the exact criteria is for a Balearic classic - it's an eclectic, freeform genre that takes in a diverse range of artists and music including The Blow Monkeys, Talk Talk, Nitzer Ebb, The Woodentops, The Beloved, The Grid and erm, Mandy Smith and the theme tune from Hill Street Blues - but I'd imagine any song that can provide the soundtrack to chilling as the sun sets at Café del Mar and larging it on the terrace at Space fits the bill. Spooky absolutely nail that brief with this one, transforming Orbit's slight piece of whimsical chill-out (from the third instalment of his Strange Cargo series) with vocals from Beth Orton, into a euphoric dancefloor destroyer - still retaining the delicate melodies of the original. When the exquisite acid droplets rain down at about the 4-minute mark the only people without their hands in the air are those wearing straitjackets. Prog-house heads in the audience might recognise the tune from its inclusion on the seminal 1996 Sasha and Digweed mix album Northern Exposure.

* This only exists in my imagination - Alfredo chairs the meeting, and DJ Harvey and Danny Rampling are on the panel.

Search eBay for Water From a Vine Leaf
William Orbit website
Spooky website - still going strong!
DJ Alfredo's 25 All-Time Balearic Classics here
Search eBay for Balearic classics

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Intergalactic Bass Transmissions

2 Live Crew - Ghetto Bass

There's a book out there waiting to be written (hopefully by Simon Reynolds), entitled The Evolution of the Bass in Dance Music. I'm not nearly knowledgeable enough to know where to begin (or end or what to write in the middle), but my first experience of bass as something that wasn't a four-stringed instrument wielded by Mark King was through the 2 Live Crew back in the mid-Eighties. Before they went all cartoon porno they used to be part of the Miami bass scene releasing records like Ghetto Bass (posted above), which had (for the time) sub-bass that the speakers on my crappy ghettoblaster definitely weren't equipped to deal with.

If I had the time or the inclination I'd trace my bassline journey from here in infinite detail, but instead we'll pick up the trail in 1991 as the rave scene exploded and producers made their basslines more and more ridiculous in order to mess with raver's addled minds. I'm talking about Beltram's Energy Flash, the Hypnotist's Death by Dub (above), Radio Babylon by Meat Beat Manifesto, LFO by LFO, ... I could go on and on and on and on.

Alex Reece - Pulp Fiction

Brief detour down memory lane.... I went to a rave somewhere in Dorset in 1995, and the main action was taking place in a large cattle shed where the DJ was spinning banging techno - normally my bag, but I got a bit bored and wandered off. I stumbled (literally) upon a small shed, which seemed to be crammed full of pretty smiling girls all swaying hypnotically in time to a sparse, minimal track with the sickest, window-rattling bassline I'd ever heard (turned out to be Pulp Fiction by Alex Reece). It got a couple of rewinds and I needed scraping off the ceiling before I went home that night. Couldn't hear properly for a week. And if you're talking about sexy dnb basslines (I was), then I can't not mention PFM's One and Only - but I already waxed on that one at length here. And if you're talking about sick dnb b-lines (we are) try these three belters -

DJ Trace - Mutant Revisited

Bad Company - The Nine.

Ed Rush & Optical - Pacman (Ram Trilogy Remix)

Starkey - Fidelio

But wait! There is a point to this disjointed bass-related musing and here it is - Starkey's got a new album out (Ear Drums and Black Holes, Planet Mu, April 19, 2010) and he's absolutely fckng NAILED it. He calls the music he makes "Street Bass" but "Space Bass" might be more appropriate as he is taking low-end rumblings into another galaxy. I'm sure it's no coincidence that Starkey shares his chosen moniker with "a global supplier of technologically advanced hearing products that assist with hearing loss". Too many nights with your head in the bins listening to this and you'll need them.

Unlike a lot of the dark, minimal dubstep out there, the Philadelphia-based wunderkid is blending his gnarly space bass emissions with gorgeous, warm synths - check Fidelio. It starts off sounding like the incidental music from 2001: A Space Odyssey , before Starkey drops the bass along with a terse, military beat. Then, mid-flow, it breaks off into a melodic interlude that Boards of Canada would be proud of. Elsewhere on Ear Drums... are collaborations with grime artist P-Money and the Texan MC Cerebral Vortex that aren't a million miles away from the prototype booty bass of the 2 Live Crew. And we've come full circle...

Pre-order Ear Drums and Black Holes from Boomkat
Starkey website
Starkey at Planet Mu
Starkey MySpace

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fakesch's Electronic Swap Shop

Scaffolding - D-Tron (Fakesch Remix)

One of my favourite things in the whole wide world is pint-sized-yet-perfectly-formed itchy lil' acid-electro bangers, so this Michael Fakesch remix of Scaffolding is so far up my street that it's disappeared round the corner. You might remember Fakesch from his tour of duty with the brilliant electronikglitchheadz Funkstörung - they did amazing things to Björk and Wu Tang Clan and were just a nail's width away from being better than Autechre, but sadly divorced in 2006 due to "musical, personal and practical differences".

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked - Fakesch is still doing ace things to other people's songs (he also did the music for the Aygo by Toyota ads that fans of T4 will be familiar with) but under his own name these days and Exchange, a collection of Fakesch reworkings of tracks by artists including Von Sudenfed, Mr Oizo, Bomb the Bass, Herbert and the Notwist to name but five, is due out on April 5, 2010 on Musik Aus Strom. Most of the remixes have never been released before. As mentioned above, the highlight is Fakesch's remix of Scaffolding's D-Tron, which sounds to these ears like a techno cocktail mixed by Hardfloor, consisting of two parts Mr Oizo's Flat Beat to one part Windowlicker by Aphex Twin, and a swizzlestick made of laser beams. I'd never heard of Scaffolding before, but they're from Denver and do a nice line in minimal techy electronica.

Buy Michael Fakesch from Boomkat
Michael Fakesch website
Michael Fakesch discography
Michael Fakesch MySpace
Buy Narratives by Scaffolding from Plastic Sound Supply
Funkstörung website